Mozart Don Giovanni

Author: 
Alan Blyth
MOZART Don Giovanni – Haitink

MOZART Don Giovanni – Haitink

  • Don Giovanni

By general consent, the performances of Don Giovanni in Sir Peter Hall's production at Glyndebourne in 1982 were considered profoundly satisfying, and therefore a special achievement in a work so hard to bring off both on stage and on the gramophone. Now that achievement is mostly confirmed in a recording that is definitely the peer of those that have gone before and possibly their superior in several respects. Giovanni is certainly the most recorded of Mozart's operas, and 11 versions remain in the current catalogue not including the newcomer, so the work must be much in demand among collectors who, like Giovanni in his search for women, seem unsatisfied by the available choice.

They ought to find the new version solving many of their difficulties. In the first place, as with so many recommendable ones of operas these days, it has the best of both worlds: the experience of recent stage performances refined under studio circumstances—including one significant change of cast. Then it has in Haitink as cogent a conductor as any who have gone before. In many respects he recalls the direct, unaffected, judicious conducting of Fritz Busch, one of his predecessors as Glyndebourne's Music Director (Busch's famous 1936 recording is still to be had—EMI Pathe Marconi/Conifer 1C 151 43057-9, 3/83). He is as much aware as Bohm of the importance of rhythmic impetus and natural flow, also of vital detail—such as the wind gurglings in ''Meta di vuoi''.

Tempos, with the possible exception of a sluggish ''Vedrai carino'', are well judged, and the dramatic impact of Giovanni's damnation scene is quite as earth-moving as with Davis (Philips) or Bohm. I wouldn't rate the LPO strings quite on a par with Bohm's VPO or Giulini's Philharmonia, but as a whole the orchestral playing is as taut as the direction. A special word of praise must be given for the handling of the recitative, which really has the feeling of a live performance and is accompanied with just the right amount of embellishment by Martin Isepp. Many appoggiaturas are now allowed by Glyndebourne.

This is a cast dominated, as much as was its live Glyndebourne predecessor, by its protagonist. Thomas Allen conveys, by voice alone the saturnine quality of his Giovanni, even without the help of his leering, daemonic portrayal. Yet the charm is there as well, both in a seductive Serenade (excellent mandolin) and a confident, easily declaimed Champagne (so-called) aria. His clear baritone contrasts distinctly with the darker timbre of Richard Van Allan's Leporello, so that there isn't the confusion between two baritones found on the Solti set (Decca), or between two basses on the Maazel (CBS 79321, 10/79). Van Allan makes the character a likeable ruffian, and sings the part as well as any rival on record. I particularly like the way he distinguishes in recitative between asides and conversation by a clever use of mezza voce, a technique he also uses in ensembles. The partnership between him and Allen has become intuitive through the experience of the Glyndebourne run, and is much appreciated.

Lionel Salter has pointed out in the past the difficulty in deciding the precise situation of the two donne. On this occasion both are very positive ladies. Carol Vaness's Anna, so imposing in the theatre, is both bold and impassioned, hardly an inexperienced girl yet properly outraged by Giovanni's behaviour. Her singing is forceful and risk-taking, not so smooth and efficient as Margaret Price for Solti (Decca), sometimes glaring at the top, but more responsive to emotional predicaments. Both her arias are firmly contoured and involving— ''Rammenta la piaga'' she declaims, and we know this Anna still feels the pain of her father's death. Vaness is an important soprano whom we shall hear more of on record.

Maria Ewing is the newcomer to the cast I referred to earlier, but you would hardly know it from her involving, often poignant singing, particularly in the recitative before ''Mi tradi'', itself sung with the runs made part of the worried expression. Her tone sometimes has a roughish edge to it, which rather impairs the Mask trio, and that may be because the role lies a little high for a voice poised between mezzo and soprano. You won't hear the full, creamy tone found in either of Te Kanawa's Elviras (for Davis and Maazel), but I think the dimension of hurt pride and intense determination tells us a lot about Elvira that more placid, better-equipped singers, such as Zylis-Gara (Bohm), can miss.

Keith Lewis, the Ottavio, carries on the accomplished line of British Mozartian tenors that runs from Heddle Nash through Richard Lewis to Stuart Burrows. Mellifluous is the word for his delivery of both arias, the voice lighter and smoother than Schreier's (Bohm), sweeter too, but less positive, and not negligible in characterization (Hall portrays him as rather elderly). Elizabeth Gale's Zerlina, impetuous and confused on stage, conveys those attributes on record, but the voice itself hasn't the charm of Popp (Solti). John Rawnsley is a Masetto very well worth Zerlina keeping, with more obvious presence than most. Kavrakos sounds a little too gentle for the Statute, ideal though for the opening scene's Commendatore.

As in all Glyndebourne performances, the sum is often greater than the parts, and the cast works together as a team better than any save Walter Legge's assembly for Giulini (HMV). For that, for Haitink's interpretation, for the most lively delivery of the recitative since Giulini's version, and for at least four of the principals, I would make this my Giovanni choice, not to overlook a well-balanced, unobtrusive (and therefore typically EMI) recording.

Bohm, whose version is about to be reissued by DG, may in some respects be more mature and magisterial than Haitink, but this theatre recording is hampered by stage noises, while Solti, in contrast, sounds studio-bound, and his version spreads over four records. No, I shall now keep Haitink close by Giulini (at medium price) for regular listening: both take you deep into this opera's world of dark tensions and make you aware of the subtleties of orchestral texture and the symphonic stature of the musical forms.

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